A blur of curses and jinxes flew through the air, the light ablaze with fire and jets of light. Ginny dodged left and right, firing curses back at her attackers, ducking behind a bookcase as a jet of blue light flew by her ear, singing the end of her ponytail.

The smell of sweat and burnt hair mingled with the sparks and smoke in the air. The redhead’s eyes flashed at her assailants as she deflected a jinx with a shield charm before thrusting her wand between the two of them. “Reducto!”

The blast threw her assailants three feet back, landing roughly on their backs on the stone floor. Ginny wiped the beads of sweat from her brow, frowning at the blackened tips of her hair.

Seamus pulled himself to a sitting position, rubbing his backside and scowling. “Did you have to cast that one directly at us?”

“Did you have to singe my hair?” Ginny snapped.

Seamus frowned, and said dryly, “Well it is a flame throwing curse, there are certain potential dangers.”

Ginny sent a nearby pillow barreling at him with a flick of her wand.

Neville had pulled himself to his feet already, and was helping Michael up.

“Blimey, Ginny, we barely touched you,” Michael remarked, rubbing his head lightly.

Ginny shrugged.

“Seriously,” he continued warily, “Three of us, and we couldn’t mark you at all. That blasting curse was seriously powerful,” he praised.

“Yeah, you didn’t have to use Maximus to make it worse,” Seamus grumbled.

“She didn’t,” Neville remarked gruffly, glancing at Ginny, “Right?”

Ginny shrugged nonchalantly.

Seamus shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, letting a breath out as he stretched his aching muscles, “Well, I think I’m about ready for a long soak in the baths.”

“Going to cry about how you got beat by a girl …again?” Neville inquired with a smirk.

Seamus frowned. So far this week he’d been knocked on his backside by Hannah Abbott, Lavender, Pavarti, and now Ginny too.

“Well, I assumed you’d all be going to the loser baths together to lament how one little girl beat the bogies out of the three of you put together,” Ginny quipped, raising an eyebrow, “and got away with a singed ponytail.”

The boys frowned.

Ginny laughed airily and reached for her knapsack, hearing Seamus grumble as he headed for the exit, bruised pride in tow. Toppling a couple of books into her bag, Ginny thanked Hermione silently for casting that undetectable extension charm on her bag. It had certainly made toting DA materials back and forth all the easier.

The DA had been making excellent progress, taking time between classes to either sneak into the Room of Requirement for extra practice time, or snuggle up by the fire in the library or common rooms to complete their weeks’ reading in their concealed Defense textbook.

Ginny swelled with pride thinking about how far everyone had come in such as short time. Just as quickly, she felt her joy deflate as she remembered the reason everyone had been working so hard. Several of the DA members were still sporting some impressive bruising and wound dressings from their encounters with the Carrows, whether it be in detention or simply class. The only silver lining from this was that any accidental injuries received during DA training went unquestioned by the Carrows, as they assumed the bumps and bruises were courtesy of their own disciplinary tactics. Ginny furrowed her brow. It was hard to believe it was only the end of their first week back. It was even harder to believe that no mention of a first year dying in the West hall had been made.

“Great job today,” Neville noted, reaching for his own bag, and dragging Ginny away from her dark thoughts.

Ginny grinned, “Thanks. Practice makes perfect, and all that.”

“You’re getting really strong,” he remarked carefully, “I don’t think anyone else has a stronger shield charm than you. You blocked three offensive curses at once today. And your own offensives are… impressive, to say the least...” He rubbed his elbow where a bruise was blooming.

Ginny smirked, “Maybe next time we should put down some crash mats.”

Neville frowned, “I’m serious,” he said, dropping his arm, “I’ve been in here every day practicing and I’m nowhere near your level. If I’d worked this hard over the past few years I might’ve gotten OWLs in something other than Herbology,” he grumbled.

Ginny smiled, tying her singed hair in a sloppy bun, “I’m just working hard like everybody else,” she shrugged, “It’s possible that fighting off six brothers the majority of my life has made me a quick learner.”

Neville cracked a grin, “Yeah?”

Ginny nodded with a grin, “I broke Fred’s arm when I was six,” she remarked matter of factly, “Didn’t even have a wand yet, but he tore my Babbity Rabbity doll in half and hell hath no fury like, well… me,” she grinned, then winced, remembering… “Mum was mad…”

Neville raised his eyebrows, “Maybe we switch partners next time, yeah?” he asked, throwing his bag over his shoulder, “I’ll team with Hannah, and you can break Seamus’ limbs. He whines enough as it is, the wanker.”

Ginny laughed, relishing the feeling as the two friends stepped through the stone door, leaving the Room of Requirement behind. The two turned down the first corridor towards the switching staircases.

“I’ll bet you’d like to team with Hannah,” Ginny teased, glancing sideways at Neville.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Neville grumbled. His ears were red.

Ginny’s teasing response caught in her throat as the pair turned the corner to find themselves pulling up just short of crashing into Snape himself.

Ginny swallowed, the grin slipping off her face in record time. Neville scowled deeply beside her, his unburdened hand forming a fist.

The pale traitor gazed down at the students through strands of greasy black hair, calculated, expressionless. Deep shadows rested under his eyes, and his sallow skin was yellow in the light of the nearby torches.

“Going somewhere?” he drawled.

“Class,” Neville grunted.

“I should hope so, Longbottom. The last six years haven’t seemed to inspire much… improvement…” his mouth twitched, “but perhaps seventh time’s the charm?”

“Keep talking, Snape.” Neville snapped, shrugging off Ginny’s warning hand. “I’ve always heard that traitors like to run their mouths. Especially when they’re nervous. And you should be,” he snarled.

Ginny’s pulse was beating so hard in her throat, she was sure everyone could hear it.

Snape raised an eyebrow, “It appears as if one thing may have improved after all,” the amusement slid from his face and the shadows under his eyes seemed to darken as the closest torch flickered ominously, “You are not the same sniveling, stammering, cowardly waste of space that first set foot in this castle, bringing shame to his parents’ memory, failure after failure-”

“DON’T YOU DARE TALK ABOUT MY PARENTS YOU SLIMY, GREASY, GIT!” Neville exploded, dropping his book-bag.

“DETENTION, LONGBOTTOM!” Minerva McGonagall burst into the hallway, cloak billowing behind her despite the lack of wind. Her face was lined with anger.

Relief spread through Ginny’s veins, as she loosened the iron-clad grip on her wand.

“Never have I witnessed a more inappropriate and disrespectful display of disobedience towards a professor at this school!” McGonagall swept past Snape, ignoring him, and grabbed Neville by the ear.

Neville yelped as she began to drag him towards the staircase that has just arrived. “You will serve detention – with me – every evening for the next two weeks, and during that time, you will learn both manners and respect, young man – two things that I am sure Augusta would love to hear that you seem to have forgotten. MISS WEASLEY, I BELIEVE WE HAVE A CLASS TO GET TO IF YOU’D BE SO KIND.”

Ginny jumped, scrambled to scoop up the contents of Neville’s bag and dashed past Snape to the stairs. McGonagall continued to berate Neville – loudly – as the staircase began to switch. Ginny’s pulse beat rapidly. Turning back, she saw Snape, lurking at the platform like an overgrown bat. Wearing a deep scowl, his black eyes flashed as he retreated into the shadows and fell out of sight.

The staircase came to a stop at the third floor East Wing, just outside the Transfiguration classroom’s closed door. McGonagall promptly released Neville’s ear (a strangled cry of relief escaped him as he clasped a hand over it), stepped off the staircase and turned on her heel. Ginny and Neville bumped into each other at the abrupt stop.

“Sorry about that Longbottom,” McGonagall snapped, “Had to be convincing.”

Neville stared stupidly at his professor, “So I’m not being punished?” he exclaimed, “I mean, aside from that which has already been administered,” he grumbled, still rubbing his ear.

The thin line of McGonagall’s mouth twitched at the corners, “Why should I punish you for stating the truth?” she raised a disapproving eyebrow, “You will not allow an outburst like this to occur again, do you understand?”

Neville frowned, indignant, “He was talking about my parents like he knew them, like he had any right-”

“-I might remind you that you are not the first young man to have his parents’ memory dangled in front of him like bait.” She peered pointedly at the two friends over her half-moon glasses, “And, had I not been present, you would not have been the first to witness first-hand Severus’ enjoyment of unjust punishment, though I fear today his tactics are less restricted and more resourceful. You, who have already experienced the wrath of the Carrows, should know better.” Her gaze flickered, pained, to Neville’s ragged, white scar, and back to his eyes.

Neville’s scowl remained, but he nodded stiffly.

A shadow of sadness passed behind McGonagall’s eyes as her eyes flickered once more over the angry white slash across Neville’s face. Then, as quickly as it had come, it was gone, and she quipped, “Now. I believe you are both late for class.” Opening an arm to right she ushered the two students into their Transfiguration lesson hall.

“Ms. Weasley,” Ginny turned at her name, and the shadow behind McGonagall’s eyes was back, “You still have a detention to serve, I recall. I will see you after class. ”

Ginny nodded wordlessly as McGonagall nodded curtly and made her way down the stone steps to the front of the hall, expressionless.

Transfiguration dragged on for Ginny, as she idly flipped through A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration. She lazily turned her rat into a porcelain goblet and back again with ease, while Seamus struggled beside her, producing a furry goblet with a tail and whiskers, and singing his desk in the process.

Ginny’s thoughts drifted, as they often did, to the war. The inevitability of a penultimate battle at Hogwarts was all but written in stone, as far as Ginny was concerned. The DA needed to prepare offensively and defensively, and that meant learning how to use the castle, their home, to their advantage when the time came. But how were they to do so without being aware of what was going on with the war outside the castle walls?

Neville was right, she sighed to herself. They needed to organize recon missions to gather what intel they could from the Voldemort supporters in their midst, but the potential for loss of life was so great. Ginny was unsure whether the gravity of that loss was something she could handle.

“Ginny, you coming?” Neville’s voice tore Ginny from her thoughts. All around them students were gathering their things. Class had ended.

“McGonagall wants me – catch up later?” Neville nodded, leaving her alone in the classroom.

Ginny packed up her books, slinging her knapsack over her shoulder. As she approached the large, oak wood desk from which Professor McGonagall had taught for years, the woman’s strained hazel eyes met Ginny’s brown ones. Her face seemed more lined than it had in years.

“Miss Weasley,” she greeted tersely, “With me, if you please.”

McGonagall moved swiftly from the classroom, leaving Ginny to scurry behind her, adding a jogging step to keep up with McGonagall’s impressive stride. They turned left, then right, then right again down halls in the castle Ginny had seldom visited. Weak torches flickered as they passed, throwing shadows onto the stone walls.

“Professor?” Ginny asked, panting, “Sorry, but – where are we going?”

“Patience is a virtue, Miss Weasley,” McGonagall chided, her deep emerald robes billowing behind her.

“I don’t understand - ”

“Nor would I expect you to, given the limited information you’ve ben given thus far. But, perhaps, you will be provided with more when the time comes,” McGonagall suggested, glancing at Ginny pointedly over her half moon lenses.

Ginny fell silent, her brow furrowed, adjusting her bag as she hurried along in the professor’s wake.

Turning a corner, McGonagall stopped abruptly as they moved through a stone archway that opened into a classroom Ginny had never noticed before. Turning as she entered, Ginny’s eyes swept across the large room. Twenty-foot ceilings reached overhead, the walls adorned with tall, stained-glass windows that revealed blue skies instead of darkness. Lively torches sent light dancing brightly throughout the room. It felt like Hogwarts – the real Hogwarts.

McGonagall cleared her throat subtly, and Ginny turned, shocked. Behind McGonagall stood Professors Sprout, Flitwick, Slughorn, Trelawney and others she’d never taken classes with, but recognized from the head table in the Great Hall. They stood together, each looking resolute. Even Professor Binns, drifting lightly in the corner, looked to be paying attention to his surroundings, for once.

McGonagall clasped her hands together, taking a step forward, and speaking sternly.

“Miss Weasley. We understand that you, along with Mr. Longbottom, Mr. Finnegan and several others, have reformed the group known formally as ‘Dumbledore’s Army,’ despite explicit educational decrees against such action, and the unfathomable dangers that will, and have, accompanied this group’s existence.” McGonagall turned to face Ginny, eyebrows raised.

Ginny opened and closed her mouth, unsure of how to respond. The corners of McGonagall’s mouth twitched ever so slightly.

“You will perhaps be surprised to hear that this is not our first encounter with a plucky group of students who, however unwisely, have taken it upon themselves to defend this school, and the people within it,” McGonagall’s eyes flashed with what may have been pride.

Ginny shifted the bag on her shoulder awkwardly, grasping for words, “Is this...? I don’t – ”

“One thing you have overlooked, however,” McGonagall blazed ahead, cutting Ginny off, “is that there is more to Dumbledore’s Army than a handful of, perhaps overly exuberant, young students.”

McGonagall raised her arms, gesturing to the witches and wizards in this room.

Her eyes narrowed determinedly as they met Ginny’s, “Mr. Potter may be on a mission for Dumbledore, to which we are not privy. But here, in this school, we have a mission of our own. And you are not alone.”

Ginny felt tears pool in her eyes.

The other members of the DA were startled to see Professors McGonagall and Sprout follow Ginny into the Room of Requirement the following afternoon. Thinking they’d been discovered and were being disbanded, everyone began arguing their case at once, the jumble of voices echoing off the walls.

Ginny raised a hand to silence everyone, explaining the professors’ desire to help, rather than hinder.

With renewed inspiration, the students split off into groups to practice their offensive formations. Ginny led Professor McGonagall to the wide wooden table at the head of the classroom portion of the room to discuss strategy, while Neville discussed with Professor Sprout how advanced Herbology may be able to help the DA in their reconnaissance missions.

“We need a way to better conceal ourselves to avoid the Carrows,” Neville explained, “Having the majority of the teachers on our side will be a huge help, but we’ve still got to watch for the others.”

Professor Sprout tapped a finger on her cheek thoughtfully, “There is a plant that has a limited concealment effect when ingested – ”

“Alovitavia,” Neville said immediately, “But it only grows in desert regions.”

Professor Sprout smiled, “You always were my best student, Mr. Longbottom,” she said appreciatively, “Yes, alovitavia is a dry desert plant, however, I have seedlings in my stores that can be convinced to grow. Meet me in greenhouse five tomorrow after your charms class...”

Ginny spread a large map over the table. McGonagall traced the paper lightly with her fingers, expression betraying slight surprise.

“This is an extremely detailed map of the castle, Miss Weasley. This will be very useful indeed...”

Ginny pursed her lips. She could think of an even more detailed map, upon which this one had been based, that could have helped them even more.

“The first thing we need to know is whether the Carrows’ and Snape’s patrol routes are always the same, or whether they switch them up. Once we know that, we’ll have fewer surprises, but the initial scouting will be risky. We’re working on a number of concealment charms, but in the absence of an invisibility cloak, it’s not going to be easy.”

McGonagall furrowed her brow disapprovingly at the mention of invisibility cloaks. Sighing, she gazed at the map.

“There is an undetectable tracking spell that I can cast that will assist you, but I do not deny that what you are proposing puts those involved at great risk.”

Ginny nodded seriously.

“The other teachers and I can make ourselves discreetly available in nearby classrooms on those nights you plan to track them, though I must warn you – ”

A scream erupted from across the room, followed by a number of gasps. Ginny whirled. A portrait she had never noticed before along the north wall had begin to swing open – a leg was emerging from it.

Without pausing to think, Ginny brandished her wand and screamed ‘Reducto!’ from the other side of the room.

Whoever was on the other side had hastily casted a shield charm, but Ginny’s curse had hit the side of the ornate portrait and ricocheted onto the stone wall, blowing a small hole in it. Stone fragments scattered, a hazy dust whirling in air on impact.

“OI! RELAX!” came an offended voice from the hidden passage.

Ginny’s heart thumped at the familiar voice.

As the dust cleared, a fire-engine red head of hair that matched her own poked out cautiously from behind the portrait. George Weasley caught Ginny’s eye across the room, hands held up in surrender.

“Blimey, you trying to make me completely deaf? I’ve only got one ear left, you know!”

Ginny felt her face break into a smile as she sprinted across the room. George had hardly finished unfolding his lanky body from the portrait hole when Ginny slammed into him, arms wrapped around his neck. He staggered backward, bumping into his brother, and Ginny laughed as she heard Fred curse. He emerged behind George, rubbing his head and frowning, just as red-headed and freckly as the last time Ginny had seen him.

“Honest to god, Gin...” Fred complained.

Releasing George, she hugged Fred, who bear-hugged her back, swinging her in a circle before setting her down gently and gazing around at those gathered in front of them.

“Right... I hope you’ve all enjoyed today’s grand – slightly painful – entrance,” Fred quipped. Noticing Professor McGonagall standing in the back he pointed, surprised, “Ah, McGonagall’s here! That’s odd.”

McGonagall frowned, her mouth set in a stern line.

“Mr. Weasley,” she greeted tersely. “Mr. Weasley,” she added, inclining her head slightly in George’s direction. “May I ask how it is you’ve entered a concealed room within an unplotted, impenetrable castle with perfect ease?”

“Well I wouldn’t exactly say perfect ease,” George said, gesturing to the singed frame on portrait and the scorch marks Ginny’s blasting curse had left in its wake.

“And, no, you may not ask,” Fred remarked. “With respect,” he added hastily, as McGonagall’s eyes narrowed dangerously, her mouth thinning.

“What are you two doing here?” Ginny intervened, quickly.

“Better question!” Fred said happily, clapping his hands together. “We thought you might be getting the band back together,” he gestured around the room to the smiling faces.

“So we thought we’d make your lives a little easier with some select – er – products,” George finished, upending a bag of Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes.

“You’ve got your basics: extendable ears, wildfire whiz-bands, skiving snackboxes –” Fred rattled off, counting on his fingers.

“And your favourite defensive products: your decoy detonators, Peruvian instant darkness powder, instant barriers –” George added.

“And finally, an assortment of shield cloaks,” Fred added, pulling a large box out of the portrait hole behind him, “You’re welcome.”

Neville dug a cloak out of the box. It was relatively translucent as it slipped through his fingers. He threw it over his shoulders and drew it closed. Neville now looked like a rather splotchy version of the scenery behind him.

“Not as good as an invisibility cloak, mind,” George noted, “But at a quick glance, a Death Eater might miss you. They aren’t very smart, them.”

Neville looked up, grinning, “These are great, thanks, guys.”

“What do you think, Gin?” Fred asked, smiling widely.

Ginny was toying with a decoy detonator, frowning.

“Thank you, really. This stuff is great, but ...” she trailed off, shaking her head sadly.

“But what?”

Ginny looked up at her brothers, “It’s not about making a scene this year. What you did with Umbridge... (the boys glowed with pride) that stuff isn’t going to work anymore,” she said, shaking her head, “This isn’t the Hogwarts you remember.”

“What are you talking about?” Fred asked, his smile faltering slightly.

She turned a bag of Peruvian instant darkness powder over in her hand. “They’re torturing students, Fred. Some of the ones up in the hospital wing right now wish they’d only lost an ear,” she glanced at George. “In detention. In class...”

The smiles slipped off the young men’s faces like stinksap. George took a step forward, as if seeing Neville for the first time. His eyes traced the great white scar that split Neville’s face diagonally. George worked his mouth, searching for words he could not find. Wordlessly, Neville nodded. George swallowed.

“Ginny, listen, you have to come home. Right now.” Lowering his voice, Fred pulled her away from the group of students by the elbow.

Ginny squirmed backward out of his grasp, “What? No!”

“Mum’ll freak,”

“Well she doesn’t have to know, then, does she?”

“You’re not staying here! Not with this crap going on!”

“That’s exactly why I have to stay. We have to defend the castle!”

“Really, Ginny, you have to defend the castle? Are you really going to make the difference?”

Ginny took a step back as if she’d been slapped.

Fred shook his head, raising a hand, “That’s not what I meant –”

“How can you let this happen?” George snapped at McGonagall, cutting through the air like a whip.

“George!” Ginny admonished, meekly.

“No, I want to know!” he pressed, advancing towards the professor, pointing a finger aggressively.

McGonagall blinked, unmoving. George’s tirade continued...

“It was bad enough with Umbridge here, slashing open the back of peoples’ hands and nailing up oppressive, decree after bloody decree... and you and Dumbledore let her walk all over everyone!” His ears were red as he continued shouting, “That was only the Ministry of Magic! This is You Know Who – this is a god damned war! What is going to take for you people to react?” His shouts rang off the arched ceiling, echoing off the rafters in the now silent room.

“And what would you have me do, Mr. Weasley?” McGongall asked softly, searching his flashing eyes for answers. “Azkaban is no more, and I am no killer. Shall I take their wands, chain them in the dungeons? Set up a 24 hour guard to ensure their imprisonment?”

“For a start!” George snapped.

McGonagall took a few, slow steps forward, nodding, her eyes tracing the grey stone floor at her feet. After a beat of silence, she raised her eyes and spoke.

“If I were to do that, Mr. Weasley, every Death Eater in the UK would descend on this castle. Every student would die, or at the very least, be tortured and maimed. The stone walls would give way, the castle would shudder and break under the weight of You-Know-Who’s forces... and for that, we – are – not – ready.”

Fred and George blanched. A cold front seemed to float through the air, chilling members of the DA from their toes to their fingertips. They stood together, expressions solemn, for they knew McGonagall was right.

“Rest assured, Mr. Weasley, the teachers loyal to this school stand with Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix. We are doing all we can,” Professor Sprout added.

Strangled expressions played across the twins’ faces as they grappled with their new reality. After several seconds, they silently nodded their apologies, and George reached into the portrait hole a third time, to reveal an old and beaten radio. Ginny recognized it as the muggle radio from their dad’s workshop.

“Our last parting gift,” George said, handing the radio over to Ginny, who looked at it questioningly.

“Er – thanks?”

“Obviously, the Prophet’s not a valid source of information on the outside world these days. Lee Jordan’s started a radio show to report on the war. I co-host sometimes,” Fred explained, proudly, ‘There’s a new password every day – they’ll give it at the end of each broadcast – today it’s Moony,” he scratched his nose, shifting awkwardly, “The show’s called... Potterwatch.”

Ginny’s eyes widened, “Has he heard anything – ”

“Not yet,” George said.

Ginny’s eyes dropped to the floor, shaking her head slightly. Stupid...

“But we do have some news on that front,” Fred added, gently.

Ginny looked up slowly, hardly daring to be hopeful. She felt the other students’ apprehension rise around her like steam. Neville and Seamus moved forward.

“Merlin knows how they pulled it off, but the three of them managed to break in and out of the Ministry,” Ginny paled, and George added quickly, “unscathed, so far as we can tell.”

“Blimey,” Seamus’ voice, disbelieving, came from her left.

“When,” Ginny breathed.

“Tuesday,” Fred answered, “Dad caught the tail end of their escape. It seems they used the old polyjuice trick. Harry was disguised as Albert Runcorn, a particularly slimy git... Dad’s feeling bad since I ‘spose they exchanged some choice words in the elevator – ”

“- Dad thought Runcorn was threatening him, but now he reckons Harry was trying to warn him about our family being watched – ”

“- and Ron was pouncing about as this random bloke from the janitorial staff, but it turned out that bloke’s muggle-born wife was being tried that day!”

“- and as they were narrowly escaping (bringing along with them another twenty innocent muggle-born witches and wizards, the bloody, stupid heroes), the bloke’s wife kisses Ron! Nearly fell over when Dad told it – ”

“What I wouldn’t give to have been there to see Hermione’s face – ” Fred’s eyes glazed over dreamily.

“GUYS!” Ginny interjected.

“Right – well anyway, they managed to nick out just as their polyjuice potion was wearing off.”

“They disapparated,” Ginny felt herself sag with relief.

“Right, well... that’s the fuzzy part,” George said, rubbing the back of his neck. A red flush was blooming behind his ears. The next few words poured out of George in a single breath, “Dad swears he saw Yaxley grab Hermione’s ankle as they disapparated.”

A beat of silence passed through the room. Ginny was certain the entire room was hearing her heart pound.

“What does that mean?” Neville asked.

“Well, we don’t know, really...” Fred trailed off.

McGonagall and Sprout exchanged a look at the back of the room.

“Yaxley was back at the office that afternoon after all the memory charms had been performed on the witnesses – ”

“- Dad managed to avoid having his memory wiped, since they hadn’t noticed him lurking ‘round the main floor in all the excitement – ”

“But Yaxley wasn’t bragging about anything... and you know how he love to brag,” George added darkly.

“Apparently, he was sporting some seriously singed robes, though, so I reckon Hermione gave him a right good blast,” Fred reasoned.

Ginny’s head was swimming.

“Why? Why the Ministry... that’s probably the worst place for Harry to be right now. What were they thinking?” she dragged a hand across her face “What were they doing?”

Fred shrugged, “Dad reckons they stole something right off Umbridge’s person – the Death Eaters aren’t very happy she had Undesirable Number One basically on top of her and failed to grab him –”

“ – Slimy hag,” George muttered darkly.

“ – They also snatched Moody’s magic eye right off her office door, so –”

“ – Gutsy. Inspired, really. I am proud, I really am.” George glowed.

Ginny’s face was drawn in disgust, while McGonagall’s nostrils flared.

“She had Moody’s eye on her door? What purpose could that possibly serve?” Ginny asked aloud, her stomach reeling.

“Fear mongering,” McGonagall snapped, “and a trophy.”

“So no one knows where they are, still?” Ginny insisted, “Or if they’re okay after Yaxley...?”

“Sorry, Gin.”

A new silence stretched over the group as the weight of the news sank in. Ginny pressed her fingers to her eyes, attempting to slow her pulse. Her heart felt like it was trying to beat right out of her chest.

“Mr. Weasley, can I assume that you two will wish to take part in the final battle?” McGonagall asked tersely.

“The final – ”

“The inevitable final battle, the Battle of Hogwarts, as I expect it will be called for years to come,” McGonagall readjusted her glasses. “I happen to agree with Miss Weasley that Mr. Potter, Miss Granger, and your brother will return to Hogwarts before the end, and I intend to be prepared for their arrival.”

Ginny swelled with wordless appreciation for Professor McGonagall.

“This castle is the most important place in the world to Mr. Potter, as it once was to He Who Must Not Be Named. It is only fitting that their final confrontation will occur here, within these walls. Albus Dumbledore expected as much. Unfortunately, he also planned to be here with us when that day came to pass.”

A moment passed among the students; respect for their fallen headmaster. McGonagall paused appropriately before addressing Ginny directly.

“I am able to summon the Order of the Phoenix when needed. We will also need a way to recall those members of Dumbledore’s Army who have since left Hogwarts. Can you do it?”

The gold coin in Ginny’s pocket seemed to heat up. She nodded.

“Wonderful.” McGonagall turned to Fred and George, eyebrows raised slightly. “When the time comes, we will also need a way to get them into the castle undetected,” she glanced at the portrait hole and back, pointedly.

The boys frowned, and George began reluctantly, “Alright, fine... This leads to a back room in the Hog’s Head. We’ll let old Aberforth know...”

Ginny walked away from the crowd slowly, shaking her head. She felt a little bit like she was under water, drowning in information... the air felt thick, her head cloudy...

“You okay?” Neville appeared next to her, a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Yeah, I – it’s just a lot,” she finished lamely.

He nodded sympathetically.

Ginny gazed at the group of students, listening raptly to McGonagall’s advice regarding their upcoming reconnaissance missions.

“Where’s Michael?” Ginny asked, brow furrowed. He had never missed a meeting before.

Neville scratched his head, “Ah, he was pretty shaken up about Terry... I saw him in the library earlier. He said he had some other work to do.” Neville trailed off, shrugging.

“Right,” Ginny said, her expression etched with concern.

Ginny entered the library from the West wing. Despite the atmospheric change at Hogwarts, it seemed that the library had not changed a bit. The twenty-foot, narrow stained-glass windows stretched from floor to ceiling, sunlight pouring through them. The unmistakable smell of books and old parchment permeated the air, while Madame Pince surveyed the room, eyes narrowing at students hastily flipping through her books.

Michael sat at one of the largest oak wood tables, pouring over Advanced Transfiguration, Grade 7.

“We missed you at the meeting,” Ginny greeted softly, as she approached the table.

His eyes met hers, a strange mix of pain and guilt reflected through them. He gave off an air of a young man being crushed under a great weight.

“What...” Ginny began, unsure of what to say, unsure if she wanted to know.

Michael dropped his eyes to the table and shook his head as Ginny sank gently into the chair next to him.

“I can’t do it. I see it - every time I close my eyes - I just couldn’t – ” his voice broke.

Ginny tilted her head, wonderingly.

Michael took a breath, “I can’t stop thinking about Terry. I close my eyes, and I see jinxes and curses flying at him from all directions,” he scoffed darkly, “Worst of all, I see myself casting some of them.”

Madame Pince shushed them angrily from her desk. Ginny frowned at her and scooted closer to Michael, lowering her voice. She placed a small, comforting hand on his arm, squeezing lightly.

“I didn’t do anything, I just – I should have – I could have refused...”

“You couldn’t have,” Ginny said firmly.

“Yes, I could’ve done!” anger flashed in his eyes, “I could have refused, told Carrow to go to hell and taken the cruciatus curse for him – for Terry.”

Ginny winced, remembering the searing pain of the cruciatus curse emanating throughout her body. She shook her head lightly to free herself of the memory.

“You could have,” Ginny agreed reluctantly, “But he might have killed you.”

“Isn’t that what we’re doing here? Helping people? Why shouldn’t I sacrifice –”

“Well, for one thing, you’re much more valuable to us alive than dead,” Ginny snapped.

“Sacrifice is a part of war, isn’t it? Didn’t you say that?”

“Maybe, but there’s a time and place – ”

“When’s the time then, huh? Do we wait until every student has been tortured once or twice before standing up?”

“No, I didn’t –”

“Well then what do you want from me, Gin?”

Ginny forced away the strange flop in her stomach at the endearing nickname combined with the familiarity of this argument. She vaguely heard another shush in the distance.

He seemed the strange familiarity too, as he dropped his gaze and shifted in his seat a little, sighing.

“Sorry... I’m just...”

“I know,” she said softly.

A brief silence passed between the two.

“I feel like a failure.” When he finally spoke, his voice was wracked with guilt. “Like I’ve failed before I’ve even started. That’s why I wasn’t at the meeting tonight. You, Neville, Luna... you’ve all seen this stuff before, you’ve lived it.” He met her brown eyes with his blue ones once more, and said softly, “I don’t know how you do it.”

Ginny cracked a half smile, “To be honest, you’re handling your first encounter with the Dark Arts better than I did.”

Michael grunted in disbelief, “I highly doubt that’s true.”

Ginny laughed darkly, shaking her head. It was her turn to drop her gaze and shift uncomfortably.

Then, dredging up memories she’d spent years trying to forget, she spoke flatly, “My first experience with the Dark Arts was during my first year at Hogwarts. I was naïve enough to become possessed by a memory of You Know Who. It’s complicated...” she trailed off, her voice taking on a dreamlike quality as she revisited her past. “He made me do his bidding; small at first, strangling the school chickens, for example. I would wake up not knowing where I had been or what I’d done, or how there was blood all over my robes... eventually he had me open the Chamber of Secrets for him and people started to get hurt.” She cleared her throat as she felt it threatening to close, fiddling with her hands in her lap.

When she looked up, Michael was staring at her with such fierceness she half expected him to be angry with her. Instead, he grasped her small hands in his own, searching her eyes.

“I had no idea,” he said gently.

“Yeah, well, Dumbledore covered it up pretty well,” Ginny shook her head, in disbelief at her past self, and the naïvety that had endangered the entire school.

A short time passed before either of them spoke again.

“I’m sorry that happened to you.” Michael said softly, in earnest, his thumbs gently brushing the backs of her hands.

Ginny felt her lower lip tremble and bit it. She kicked herself as a single tear escaped down her cheek. She moved to wipe it away, but Michael’s finger was already doing the job. Ginny felt an involuntary flush on her neck as their eyes met.

“All we ever heard about the Chamber was that it had been closed, the monster slayed, and the entrance sealed for good,” he continued quietly. Madame Pince strode past them, her beady eyes glaring over the brim of an old, leather bound book like a giant eagle, daring them to speak over a quiet murmur. Michael leaned closer until their foreheads were nearly touching, and lowered his voice to a whisper, “We assumed Dumbledore had taken care of it... how did you...?”

“It wasn’t me.” Ginny murmured.

“Then who?” Michael’s eyes searched her own. The care and concern Ginny saw there induced another wave of memories, of familiarity, of comfort...

The words dripped off her lips before she knew it was happening, “Harry saved me.”

Suddenly, Ginny was very aware of their closeness. Dragging her eyes from his and awkwardly disentangling her hands from his, Ginny tucked a red flyaway behind her ear and shifted away from Michael.

“Oh, right...” Michael trailed, quietly, “Of course.”

Of course.

“That’s kind of his thing. Saving me...” Ginny picked at a scratch in the wooden library desk, he gaze downward, “saving everyone...”

Ginny cleared her throat. “You can’t quit the DA. We need you, Michael.”

When Ginny looked up to meet his eyes, she found he was still watching her, his blue eyes blazing. Ginny watched his face flicker, looking as if he was struggling with a number of emotions.

“I need you,” she heard herself say softly.

Michael shared a small smile with the redhead, squeezing her hand once more.

“I’m there.”

Ginny felt the corners of her mouth twitch. His eyes were stupidly blue, she felt herself thinking. And that little scar over his eyebrow was new... when did he fill out so much? Hadn’t it only been a couple years since –

“Oh! Sorry, Ginny...” Ginny snapped out of her thoughts abruptly at the sound of her name. Lavender stood two stacks over, waving. “Neville’s looking for you! Something about... you know...”

“Okay, great.” Ginny chirped, a little too cheerfully. Hastily swinging her bag over her shoulder, she turned back to Michael.

“Anyway, you’re doing fine.” She reassured him, squeezing his shoulder supportively.

He shook he head, a small smile still playing on his lips. Ginny turned to head over to where Lavender was waiting for her, eyes passing between Ginny and Michael curiously.

“Does it get easier?” Michael called to Ginny from behind her.

“Nope,” she chirped, without turning back.

Falling into step beside Lavender, Ginny glanced over her shoulder as they made their way toward the ornate library doors that led out into the stone corridor. Michael smiled back.

“So you and Michael, huh.” Lavender giggled on Ginny’s left.

She felt her brow furrow in confusion, “So me and Michael what?”

“Are you kidding?” Lavender raised an eyebrow.

Ginny blanched, hugging a book to her chest, “I don’t know, are you?”

Lavender rolled her eyes.

“I’m just a little surprised you guys are together, that’s all.” Ginny opened her mouth to retort, but Lavender cut her off, “- I just thought you and Neville were dating.”

Ginny came screeching to a halt, gaping at Lavender’s back.

“Why would you think that?” she hissed. She could feel her ears turning red.

Lavender turned, confused. She shrugged, “Well, you’re always with him...” she trailed off, grinning slyly, “and you obviously have a thing for scars.”

Ginny fumed silently and resumed walking, shaking her head. “I’m not with anybody,” she snapped. The minute the words left her lips, she felt her heart break.

Lavender raised an eyebrow, shaking her head. “I told Pavarti you and Harry had broken up, but she didn’t believe me -”

Ginny felt a pang in her heart. “No, we didn’t...” Ginny struggled with the words, “We...”

“You didn’t what? You didn’t break up?” Lavender pried, eagerly.

“It’s complicated.” Ginny sighed, shifting her bag on her shoulder uncomfortably.

As they passed through the ornate library doors, Lavender glanced over her shoulder to where Michael sat, flipping absent mindedly through his textbook.


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